Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Thoughts On the Recent Pastoral Letter of the Prelate of Opus Dei

Thoughts On the Recent Pastoral Letter of the Prelate of Opus Dei

The Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, sent an extensive pastoral letter on the anniversary of the founding of Opus Dei, October 2, 2011, to all his sons and daughters in Opus Dei, and all those in any way associated with its apostolates.

1) The topic was the need for formation for the “New Evangelization.” Benedict XVI as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had addressed Catechists in the year 2,000 in Rome on the same topic, insisting that “The New Evangelization” is not reducible to a communication of ideas as in information, but to a conversion of self, “to come out of self-sufficiency.” Later, as pope, Ratzinger wrote in his second encyclical “Spe Salvi” that “the Christian message was not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative’” (2). Only by living the faith can we come to know God experientially. In the address on “The New Evangelization” in 2,000, he referred to the theologian Johan Baptist Metz in the following terms: “In the past, Metz taught us anthropocentrism – the true occurrence of Christianity was the anthropological turning point, the secularization, the discovery of the secularity of the world. Then he taught us political theology – the political characteristic of faith; then he ‘dangerous memory;’ and finally narrative theology. After this long and difficult path, today he tells us: The true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God,’ the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity. Theology must go back to being truly theo-logy, speaking about and with God.” “Metz is right: the ‘unum necessarium’ to man is God. Everything changes, whether God exists of not. Unfortunately – we Christians also often live as if God did not exist… We live according to the slogan: God does not exist, and if he exists, he does not belong.” Ratzinger goes on to say “God cannot be made known with words alone. One does not really know a person if one knows about this person secondhandedly. To proclaim God is to introduce to the relation with God: to teach how to pray. Prayer is faith in action. And only by experiencing life with God does the evidence of his existence appear.”

The crisis of Modernity then is the loss of the experience of God, and this because we have reduced this experiential knowing by the hegemony positivist method of knowing. This narrows our experience of the real. The principal area of reality that has been eclipsed is the self which has been tragically misconstrued as mere consciousness and not ontological reality.

2) The Pastoral Letter to Opus Dei and beyond to those who are in contact in any way with its apostolate, is the recovery of this broadened experience by exercising the self by Christian faith. This exercise of self is the meaning of freedom, and it demands an anthropology that is a subjectivity whereby one becomes another Christ by receiving Him into self as Word. Becoming self-gift that as Christ must first, in us, be self-gift as receptivity of Jesus Christ as Word of God – Revelation. That gift of receptivity we call “faith.” Underlying this Pastoral Letter is the Christian anthropology of taken from the Trinity (from above) rather than the Greek-Stoic anthropology (from below). Grounding the charism of St. Josemaria Escriva of becoming “another Christ” in the exercise of secular work is the Christian anthropology enunciated by the Magisterium of Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes #24: “The Lord Jesus, when praying to the Father ‘that they may all be one… even as we are one’ (Jn. 17, 21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love. It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”

This exercise of faith as obediential self-gift is anthropological in that it is the self in its totality (uni-totality[1]) that must be given to Christ in order to receive Christ into self and become Christ. By “totality” one means the transformation of self into becoming “another Christ.”

This can be done only with an expanded meaning of freedom, i.e. by seeing freedom as deeper than choice. In a Christian anthropology where the meaning of person is taken from Christ and therefore from imaging the relationally of the Persons of the Trinity, freedom means relation as total self-gift in order to be total reception of the revealing Christ. Freedom coincides with Christ crucified as total gift of Himself to the Will of the Father. And since Christ is Prototype of the human person, freedom for us will mean the total gift of ourselves.[2]

The Anthropology of Self-Gift:

Anthropologically, this means the mastery of self. In a human person who is enfleshed spirit, image of God created in time and therefore finite, he will have to exercise causality over self, i.e. to subdue – master – self in order to get possession of self so as to be able to become relational as gift. This is not a Pelagian self-starting because in a created world where God is the source of all that is and moves, there is no self or starting without God’s causality. But this causality is Love that engenders the person and his freedom. God’s power (Love = Grace) must be received in order to be a self according to the dynamics of being an image of the Son Who receives all He is from the Father. Benedict writes: “They [the divine Persons] are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but the relatedness whose pure actuality… does not impair the unity of the highest being but fills it out.”[3] And so, he continues, “To John [Evangelist], ‘Son’ means being-from-another; thus with this word he defines the being of this man as being from another and for others, as a being that is completely open on both sides, knows no reserved area of the mere ‘I.’ When it thus becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely open being, a being ‘from’ and ‘towards,’ that nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality) and, as pure relation, pure unity. This fundamental statement about Christ becomes, as we have seem, at the same time the explanation of Christian existence.”[4]

The Anthropology of Self-Determination:

To become relationality – or gift in act - will be the meaning of “supernatural.” It will not be a second tier of spirituality above a first tier of “natural” substance, but the relational actualization of an enfleshed image of the Son. It is conceptually true that grace “builds” upon nature, but it is imaginatively false. It is not a two story building. There is the human person that is the image of God in its ontological architecture that, as created and free, must bring himself to actuality as image. The image of God as created person already is ontologically image of the Son. There is no such thing as a “natural” man, and there never was. Man was created in the image of God. But he is not in fully self because as created he is finite and historical. There must be an exercise of the person to master and subdue self to get possession of self to be able to govern and give self: to become relational, and therefore free.

Person hood was an achievement of his freedom. Adam was called upon to become relational by obeying the divine command to subdue the earth and name the animals. That act of obedience that was the inchoate relation to the Creator activated – not without divine Love – his personhood as a single “I” and the experience of being “alone.” In the act of obedience, the man suddenly experienced loneliness as “I” in a created universe of “it.” God declared after creating everything “good,” that it was “not good that the man is alone.”[5] God then created the woman as another human “I” (there must have been a like self-achievement of personhood for the woman) and the two enter into a “communion of persons” where the imaging now becomes a mutual act of self-gift. The traditional Greek-Stoic anthropology of substance and accident – a category embracing both thing and person is an abstraction and as such is not useful to explain this Christian development of freedom as self-mastery and self-subduing. The Greek pre-Christian metaphysic was useful to give a rational account of many developments brought about by Christ’s revelation, but as grounding metaphysics of man as other Christ, called to achieve sanctity – divinization – by becoming Love even to death – is totally beyond its powers of metaphysical accountability.

Karol Wojtyla wrote “The usefulness of the Aristotelian definition is unquestionable. It became the dominant view in metaphysical anthropology and spawned a variety of particular sciences, which likewise understood the human being as an animal with the distinguishing feature of reason. The whole scientific tradition concerning the composition of human nature, the spiritual-material compositum humanum – a tradition that came down from the Greeks through the Scholastics to Descartes – moved within the framework of this definition and, consequently, within the context of the belief that the essentially human is basically reducible to the world. It cannot be denied that vast regions of experience and scientific knowledge based on that experience reflect this belief and work to confirm it.”[6]

But, he goes on to assert that “on the other hand, a belief in the primordial uniqueness of the human being, and thus in the basic irreducibility of the human being to the natural world, seems just as old as the need for reduction expressed in Aristotle’s definition. This belief stands at the basis of understanding the human being as a person.”[7] Wojtyla wanted to offer two metaphysical anthropologies, that of the object, and that of the subject and between them there is a complementarity not unlike that of Newtonian Physics and Quantum Mechanics. They represent two distinct epistemological levels that correspond to two different types of experience: the one through the external senses that is abstracted by the mind and rendered into an object, and the other as “lived experience” of the subject in the free act.

Returning to the point of the “Pastoral Letter” from the Prelate of Opus Dei, the topic of formation is the topic of freedom and personal responsibility. The onus of being formed falls squarely on the person himself who must be receptive of the action of the Spirit of God. But no one can make a person good. The entire purpose of formation is to help the person “want to.” The person becomes “good” when he permits the Word of God to enter him as did our Lady. It must be his free act of receptivity. It has an experiential and totally free character. “While not neglecting a systematic understanding [conceptual] of the content of the faith, it center[s] on a vital and convincing encounter with Christ, as proclaimed by authentic witnesses” (12). Spiritual formation is offered as advice, encouragement, affirmation, understanding, forgiveness, empathy. It is never an exercise of jurisdiction. “In the Work, the separation between the exercise of jurisdiction and spiritual direction is assured in practice, among other things, by the fact that precisely those who receive chats of spiritual direction (the local Directors and other faithful who are especially prepared, and the priests in the sacrament of Penance) do not have any power of government over the people they are looking after. Local government as such does not refer to persons, but only to the organization of the Centers and apostolic activities; the function of the local Directors, in what refers to their brothers or sisters, is that of fraternal advice. The same individual does not therefore exercise functions both of jurisdiction and of spiritual assistance” except the Prelate and his Vicars.” (15). Hence, there are no “spiritual directors” in Opus Dei to whom one may be obliged in conscience. There is spiritual direction, but it is exercised only in actu, at the moment of imparting it with a grace of state, but it is not jurisdictional.

And so the burden of spiritual direction is assumed by the person seeking it. And since the person has been created in the image and likeness of the Son and baptized into Him, the total gift of himself can be demanded of him. In line with an anthropology of the image, nothing less than divinization by likeness with Jesus Christ is to be asked. Notice, if the Person of Christ is the prototype of the metaphysical structure of the human person (Gaudium et Spes #22), the person will never achieve his full stature without being demanded of to make the full gift of self. But this demand falls on the person as “the only being God has willed for itself” as we saw in Gaudium et Spes #24. This self determination and autonomy, as we have just seen above, is the most profound meaning of human freedom. What does “the only earthly being God has willed for itself” mean? Karol Wojtyla gives the explanation in his “Love and Responsibility.”

“We must never treat a person as the means to an end. This principle has a universal validity. Nobody can use a person as a means towards an end, no human being, not even God the Creator. On the part of God, indeed, it is totally out of the question, since, by giving man an intelligent and free nature, he ahs thereby ordained that each man alone will decide for himself the ends of his activity, and not be a blind tool of someone else’s ends. Therefore, if God intends to direct man towards certain goals, he allows him to begin to know those goals so that he may make them his own and strive towards them independently. In this amongst other things resides the most profound logic of revelation. God allows man to learn His supernatural ends, but the decision to strive towards an end, the choice of course, is left to man’s free will. God does not redeem man against his will.”[8]

As we have seen above, this anthropology of the subject mastering self and gaining possession of self such as to be able to make the gift of oneself totally, even to death, is the supreme meaning of freedom as revealed by Christ on the Cross. It will be important to see this Christian anthropology of self-giftedness as the completion of the Greek-Stoic-Boethian anthropology of the individual substance of a rational nature that impedes understanding the call to heroic sanctity in the ordinary and the small. Consider the remarks of Benedict XVI about Aristotle’s understanding of “God,” when speaking the philosophy of substance in highest instance: “Aristotelian philosophy, as we well know, tells us that between God and man there is only a non-reciprocal relationship. Man refers to God, but God, the Eternal, is in Himself, He does not change: He cannot have this relationship today and another relationship tomorrow. He is within Himself, He does not have ad extra relations. It is a very logical term, but it is also a word that makes us despair: so God himself has no relationship with me.”[9] The “god” of Aristotle is the supreme of the separate substances, but he is not creator nor relational in any way. He exercises causality as final cause attracting the imitation of his self-contemplation. The circular motion of the spheres in their transitive local motion are that imitation of the immanent motion of self-contemplation. This notion of being – “substance’ - that is cosmological and abstracted from sense experience has been useful, as Wojtyla comments, but insofar as it reduces the humanum to the world, it is inadequate to give a metaphysical account of persons created in the image of the Trinity.

The ontological substratum used to explain the humanum which is to fulfill self by mastering self - not merely accidentally by the faculties of reason and will where part masters part - but by a kind of personal intususception that Wojtyla calls “self-determination,” is rather the “subject,” the person, or the “self.” By this, he explains that “the most essential in this element is the will as a property of the person and of the person’s potentiality – not the will taken as a power in itself [an accident of substance], but the will as a property of the person and of the person’s essential potentiality. I can determine myself by my will, and I determine myself as often as I bring myself to act. I am the author of the act, and my agency in this act, that is, my will (‘I will’), turns out to be self-determination.”[10] He continues: “Self-determination, which reveals the freedom of the will and the freedom of the human being in the most direct and complete way, also allows us to define what makes each individual his or her own I. It allows us as if to touch what is expressed in the concept ‘self.’ Through the aspect of the self-determination manifested in my action, I who am the subject of that action discover and simultaneously confirm myself as a person in possession of myself… Thus action leads us into the very depths of the human I, or self. This takes place through experience.”[11]

This attempt to disentangle the Greek notion of substance from the Christian understanding of person has transcendent importance because it is in this distinction that we can come to understand the teaching of the Church on “work” (“Laborem Exercens”) and the charism of Opus Dei on the sanctification of work (objectively) and the achievement of sanctity by the worker. The notion of priesthood also involves the notion of self-mediation whereby the person must become priest or his own existence. He mediates between himself and God in the service of the others. The notion of substance is not helpful here.

In “Laborem Exercens,”[12] John Paul II distinguishes work in the “objective sense” (5), and work in the “subjective sense” (6). Work in the objective sense is what is done as result of the transitive action of the work process. Biblically, it is the subduing of the earth. Work in the subjective sense is the self mastery and subduing of the self [taken from the slime of the earth] in order to subdue the earth and make a gift of the earth to Creator and to the others. The significant point is to see that only persons work. Neither animals nor machines work, and this because only man is capable of freely mastering himself to subdue the earth, get possession of it and turn it into gift for another (See Benedict XVI’s “Charitas in Veritate’). Hence, the topic of self-determination and the finding of the self looms large when considering the anthropology of the human person. Within the anthropology of substance, work as a means of sanctity and the identification with the Person of Jesus Christ is not helpful except extrinsically. That is, we may understand that we can work with right intention and pray before, during and after work, but the work itself as the self-given could not come into play since substance as understood as the category of “thing-in-itself” cannot be gift by definition. Like Christ, human work must be the self given.

Let it be clear. Wojtyla does not understand the will as an accident or power of substance. He writes: “When I say that the will is the power of self-determination, I do not have in mind the will all alone, in some fort of methodical isolation intended to disclose the will’s own dynamic. Rather, I necessarily have in mind here the whole person. Self-determination takes place through acts of will, through this central power of the human soul. And yet self-determination is not identical with these acts in any of their forms, since it is a property of the person as such.”[13]

Thus, mastering oneself as created image of a constitutively relational divine Person, the Greek notion of substance is totally inadequate as metaphysical anthropology for the person.

The Opus Dei Pastoral makes concretion of this by stating that the burden of living the charism of St. Josemaria Escriva, for laity and secular priests, of becoming “another Christ” in the exercise of ordinary secular work and family life is the burden of one’s own freedom and responsibility. He emphasizes “The separation between the exercise of jurisdiction and spiritual direction” because those who impart spiritual direction are not “spiritual directors” understood to exercise a jurisdictional power, to whom and because of which, obedience is obliging in conscience. The burden is not placed on a jurisdictional power of another which the person obeys and therefore is relieved of responsibility. Rather, the whole burden is placed on the freedom of the person who is called by God to give self, which no power on earth can make us do. The formation is an aid to help one form his own conscience. It is a presentation of the charism of the sanctification of ordinary life – work and family – in secular society. It is a teaching in conformity with the Magisterium, a listening, an understanding, an affirming, an encouraging, a forgiving, a loving. The strongest command from the the jurisdictional power is “please.”


Consider the vision of Blessed John Paul II who wrote that the Greek category of substance was the metaphysical terrain of the object that embraces both things and persons. Now there must be a new structure – of the New Evangelization – completing that metaphysical terrain that will give a unique existential account of the metaphysical subject (embracing and purifying Modernity), as well as the object, a kind of Schrödinger equation that will metaphorically account for Newtonian physics (object) within one point of view and Quantum mechanics (subject) from another. Both are real and both are necessary for the holistic experience of the human person as “alter Christus” that undergirds the foray into the “New Evangelization.”

[1] I.e. it is not the substantial soul with faculties of intellect and will (accidents) that intend giftedness to Christ but the “uni-totality of an enfleshed spirit that is “I.” Cf. Pope Benedict XVI to Sixth European Symposium of University Professors, “Widening the horizons of rationality, On Saturday, 7 June [2008].

[2]The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom” Veritatis Splendor #85.

[3] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990), 131.

[4] Ibid. 134.

[5] Gen. 2, 18.

[6] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community, Lang (1993) 211.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Karol Wojtyla, “Love and Responsibility,” Farrar, Straus, Giroux (1981) 27.

[9] Benedict XVI, Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, October 11, 2010.

[11] Karol Wojtyla, “Participation or Alienation? Person and Community, alng (1993) 199.

[12] John Paul II, “On Human Work,” September 14, 1981.

[13] Karol Wojtyla, “The Personal Strucutre opf Self-Determination,” Person and Communion Lang (1993) 190.

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